With Indigenous Children Facing “Lifetime of Exclusion’, UN Children’s Fund Developing Framework Strategy to Address Challenges, Permanent Forum Told

– A strategic approach was urgently needed to address “disturbing” gaps between the world’s richest and poorest children — in particular indigenous children — said delegates to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, as it met with United Nations Children’s Fund ( UNICEF ) representatives this morning.

Facing a “lifetime of exclusion”, indigenous children were more likely to die before the age of five, less likely to be in school and more likely to drop out of school if they did attend, said Richard Morgan, UNICEF Director of Policy and Practice, as he opened an interactive dialogue with the Forum. Citing the regional example of Latin America and the Caribbean, where it was estimated that child mortality was 70 per cent higher for indigenous children than for non-indigenous children, he stressed that not enough was being done to defend the rights of some of the world’s most marginalized people. “We can do better,” he stressed.During the dialogue, Forum members and UNICEF representatives heard impassioned appeals from delegates relating the “tragic” situation of indigenous children and young people in their home countries. Many pointed to shocking statistics that demonstrated poor health indicators, violence, high rates of suicide and prevalent discrimination that acted as a barrier to both education and political participation. The situation was further exacerbated by a lack of reliable data, some said, as well as the absence of a holistic, strategic approach to tackling the crisis, both at the national and international level.

To address those challenges, Mr. Morgan told the Forum that UNICEF was developing a framework strategy to guide its work with indigenous children. It would aim to address both the immediate manifestations of marginalization, as well as its root causes, and would work to identify “bottlenecks and barriers” in indigenous access to basic services, he said. It would also act as a guide for UNICEF country offices — both in issues of practice and principle.

Daniel Seymour, Chief of UNICEF’s Gender and Rights Unit, said that the agency’s work with indigenous children was not only about marginalization and exclusion. UNICEF understood that the rights of the indigenous communities were pertinent to everyone, he stressed, adding that indigenous knowledge and insight were essential to all people around the world. As part of the process towards fully developing its framework strategy, he said, UNICEF would set up working groups to draw on regional experiences, as well as a group of organizations outside of the United Nations. For his part, Mr. Morgan agreed that the strategy was being drawn up with the input of a diverse group of stakeholders, and stressed that UNICEF would continue to rely on consultations with Permanent Forum members before the framework strategy was launched for an initial “pilot” year.

Many delegates took the opportunity presented by the dialogue to offer concrete recommendations to both UNICEF and the Permanent Forum. A representative of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, for example, urged UNCIEF to “translate written words into action” by conducting regional and international indigenous youth training programmes, with the aim of building their capacity to effectively respond to current and emerging human rights challenges. It should also prepare a report on the policies, guidelines and programmes of United Nations agencies on the ways in which they address the specific needs of indigenous children, she said, as requested by the Forum during its first session. Additionally, she called for a specific international study on the situation of the rights of indigenous children, and asked UNICEF to appoint an indigenous rights specialist or body as a focal point for indigenous children and youth.

Some national delegates also shared work being undertaken on indigenous youth issues in partnerships with UNICEF, as well as actions taken by their own Governments. The representative of Mexico reported that her Government had set up special indigenous schools in local homes and shelters, providing free bilingual education, basic nutrition, rights workshops and other services, while the representative of Australia described her country’s “Closing the Gap” policy, which sought to provide education to all indigenous four-year-olds. In contrast, however, some representatives of indigenous groups raised serious concerns about the challenges still facing their people. A representative of the Indigenous Peoples Organization of Australia, for example, said that her country’s aboriginal groups faced some of the largest challenges of any group in any context, and had the poorest health outcomes in the world.

“We have come from this dialogue with a good sense that we need to be better informed,” said Mr. Morgan, as the dialogue came to a close. It was also clear, he added, that an intersectoral and holistic approach to the issues surrounding indigenous children was needed and should include both their physical well-being and their psychological and spiritual health.

Also during the interactive dialogue, a representative of the World Health Organization ( WHO ) introduced a report of the meeting of the Organization Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, held from 16 to 17 September 2010.

In an afternoon session today, the Forum also considered its future work, including issues of the Economic and Social Council and emerging issues, the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development ( Rio+20 ), planned for 2012.

Launching that discussion, a Forum member from Bangladesh, said that the 2014 World Conference would be a unique opportunity to provide insight on the nature of the discrimination that indigenous people faced historically and today. “Except for a few cases in the last decade or so, indigenous peoples were not involved in deciding the ‘rules of the game’,” he said, adding that no international conferences had yet addressed the rights of indigenous peoples, despite the fact that they had been subject to genocide and had long been excluded from the modern processes of State-building and development.

Underscoring the importance of including indigenous peoples at all levels, a representative of the Pacific Caucus stressed that during the World Conference, indigenous peoples should be on an equal footing with Member States. Making a similar call for the full participation of indigenous peoples at that meeting, a member of the Permanent Forum from the United States suggested that, if such meaningful participation was not achieved — in line with the provisions of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — the conference “might not be worth the effort” of indigenous peoples after all.

The Chef de Cabinet of the Office of the President of the General Assembly and a representative of the Division for Sustainable Development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs presented outlines of the work being conducted in the run-up to the 2014 World Conference and Rio+20.

A number of representatives from UNICEF participated in the morning’s, including: Rina Gill, Associate Director of the Gender, Rights and Civic Engagement Section; Jeremy Hopkins, UNICEF Deputy Representative in the Central African Republic; Marianne Flach, UNICEF Representative in Democratic Republic of the Congo; Esther Ruiz, Excluded Population Specialist, Regional Office for Latin American and the Caribbean; Ravi Karkar, Participation Specialist from UNICEF Headquarters; Adan Pari, Education Officer, UNICEF Bolivia; Daniel Seymour, Chief of UNICEF’s Gender and Rights Unit; and Miguel Hilario, Excluded Population Specialist, UNICEF Regional Office for Latin American and the Caribbean.

Also speaking today were representatives from Australia, Mexico, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Brazil.

The coordinator of the Youth Parliament in Guatemala and a representative of the Sami Parliament of Norway also spoke.

Forum members from Guatemala, Canada, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Russian Federationalso offered comments.

Also participating in today’s dialogue were representatives of the following indigenous organizations: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Indigenous Peoples Organization of Australia, Latin American Youth Caucus, North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, North American Indigenous Peoples’ Youth, Fourth World Centre for the Study of Indigenous Law and Politics, Federación Nacional de Mujeres Campesinas Indígenas Originarias de Bolivia “Bartolina Sisa”, Australian Foundation for Aboriginal Islander Research Action, Organization Regional Indigena del QuindioOrigin of Colombia, Global Indigenous Youth Caucus.

Also: Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, North American Indigenous Caucus, Pacific Caucus, Asia Caucus, International Indigenous Women’s Forum, Africa Caucus, Indigenous Peoples Organizations of Australia, Comite Intertribal Memoria e Ciencia Indigenda, Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, Indigenous Crimean Tatars of Crimea, Ukraine, Pueblo Aymara de Bolivia, Nukuoro Residents Association, Network of Indigenous Women on Biodiversity, Southeast Indigenous Peoples Centre, and Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indígenas y Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de los Américas.

The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m., Tuesday, 24 May to hold a half-day discussion on the right to water and indigenous peoples.

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